Hats off to Ryan Murphy: The man is consistently contradicting himself. Just a couple of weeks later Ratchet Hit Netflix, its adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical The prom arrives on the platform in a Technicolor version of the same adorable high school nostalgia as Joy, and imbued with the same condescension towards “average” people that has defined so much of its performance Nip / tuck to The politician. Murphy’s penchant for tearing down the walls around certain American institutions and making them accessible to all has never been particularly nuanced, and he directs The prom with the same dullness. The film’s ultimate celebrity admiration is only vaguely bearable because its simultaneous message of inclusivity is theoretically admirable – but does it have to be delivered by the likes of a thoroughly exhausting, irrevocably self-satisfied James Corden?
The event that inspired the musical The prom, which ran as a stage musical on Broadway from November 2018 to August 2019 and was due to start a national tour next year before COVID-19 changed our lives, became a national news story that has its own Wikipedia page: the “2010 Itawamba County School District prom controversy. “Constance McMillen’s request to get her friend to prom was granted by a hostile school authority that canceled the prom as soon as the ACLU got involved. The situation dragged on for weeks, and if the subsequent acts of bigoted parents and student harassment were discussed too extensively, many of the twists and turns would be revealed The promwhich, to some extent, follows what actually happened to McMillen. Murphy, in turn, adapts the play pretty closely, hiring Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin (who worked on the text and the book for the play) as scriptwriters.
The prom introduces Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), McMillen’s analogue, in an opening scene that makes it clear what to expect. She continued the PTA meeting in Edgewater, Indiana, led by Ms. Greene (Kerry Washington) Little fires everywhere Turn against the guy with another role in which parents cancel prom instead of exposing their precious kids to their classmate who happens to be a lesbian is a real pit of desperation. “We have no choice,” says Mrs. Greene hypocritically. Then The prom takes us to New York City, where two-time Tony winner Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and all-time runner-up Barry Glickman (James Corden) are shocked that their new musical about Eleanor Roosevelt is receiving negative reviews. “I put on this wig and those denture teeth and I know I’m changing my life,” Dee Dee told a reporter on the red carpet, and that arrogance convinces Dee Dee, Barry, his lost luck colleague Trent Oliver ( Andrew Rannells) and unemployed Chicago Choir girl Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman) uses Emma’s story as an opportunity and marches arm in arm down a heavily CGI-influenced Broadway to celebrate her philanthropic spirit.
They decide to “appear like decent people” by traveling to Central America and interfering in Emma’s fight against the PTA. Each of the four who identify themselves differently as gay or, as Dee Dee puts it, as “gay-positive” has their own motivations. Trent appears on a travel show that runs through Indiana. Angie is really moved by Emma’s story. Barry is reminded of his own traumatic experience at prom and wants to give Emma the night he didn’t have. Dee Dee sees a way to strengthen her brand and grab a third Tony. And so they all throw themselves into Edgewater (which is sometimes portrayed as rustic tiny and sometimes big enough to support a gigantic mall and country club), proudly declare themselves to be liberal elites in a “Hick Town” and join Emma and her school at Chief Ally Mr. Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key). “We’re going to help this little lesbian whether she likes it or not!” is their gathering cry. Of course because The prom
Emma immediately befriends these four adults and accompanies their Campy antics and performative advice. Is Emma really interested in the theater? Not clear! But in a typical musical way, the boundaries between reality and stage are constantly blurring, which leads to moments that range from pleasantly spunky to deeply distressing.
Emma’s first number, “Just Breathe,” sung as she walks through high school and watches “Note to Self: People Suck in Indiana,” is an opportunity for Pellman to step into the spotlight. As an actress, she is a winner whose seriousness grows stronger The prom – She shines in virtually every pairing, especially when she teamed up with Kidman for “Zazz”. Kidman’s Angie, who has longed to play Roxie Hart to no avail for years, gives Pellman’s Emma hiring advice with a series of high kicks. And Pellman has good chemistry with classmate Alyssa (Ariana DeBose), a straight college student, debate team champion, and cheerleader who hides her own secret. Their duet “Dance With You” is reminiscent of a groundbreaking romance that Murphy delivered joy.
But the problem with the exuberance of the cast – Streep digs himself into Dee Dee’s flirtatious mood with Keys Mr. Hawkins; Rannells is delighted with the number of times Trent mentions his previous training at Juilliard himself – how much that paper mache is over many of the film’s weird technical choices (why so many floating cameras?) And the script’s narrative abbreviations. Most confusing are the film’s conflicting messages about individual happiness and collective acceptance. Mainly, The prom
Certain elements of The prom can be forgiven if you frame the musical as a fantasy and if you can accept the superficiality of its happy ending and if you let yourself be carried away by Streep, Kidman and Keys enthusiasm and if you can empathize with Pellman’s Emma and the simplicity of their desire, despite intolerant bullies who put shearing teddy bears in their locker to share a dance with their crush. But Corden is the distraction that derails every scene he’s in, and unfortunately he’s in many of them. There is never a feeling that Corden actually is Will Barry Glickman, but more like he’s doing one Late Late Show little. Along with a southern accent that comes and goes, he plays a gay character without exuding any believable sexual energy. has no interest in Streeps Dee Dee, who inexplicably goes from professional rival to close friend; and brings a noticeable insincerity in moments that require intense emotions. That last flaw is the most damaging, and it makes it so that neither Barry’s investment in getting Emma to prom nor his decision to reconnect with people from his past make a big impression. There is too much of Corden to ignore The prombut there isn’t much to like.
“One thing you taught me is how much people enjoy a show,” Emma says to Dee Dee, Barry, Angie and Trent, describing it The prom all in all. Hidden by neon lights, glittery sequins, and A-list performers ready to indulge in Murphy’s hijinks is another project that can’t choose between sincerity and disdain and which ultimately leaves you unsatisfied.